20 Times Nativism in American Politics Stepped on Immigrants and Native Americans

20 Times Nativism in American Politics Stepped on Immigrants and Native Americans

By Steve
20 Times Nativism in American Politics Stepped on Immigrants and Native Americans

Nativism – the promotion of the rights of native inhabitants over those of immigrants – has been a longstanding component of American political discourse since the establishment of the United States in the late-18th century. Ironically overlooking the rights of Native Americans, white citizens of the United States have habitually and recurrently opposed the expansion of their societies into more culturally diverse units. A persistent aspect of American politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the reappearance of nativist tendencies in recent years carries significant rhetorical and ideological parallels to these earlier episodes. Lending credence to the affirmation that “‘those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”, it is important to appropriately understand these historical and long-running cultural concerns to better inform contemporary debate on the subject of immigration.

Ku Klux Klan parade in Washington, D.C. (c. September 1926). Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 20 important moments of nativism in American history you should be aware of:


Portrait of John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart (c. 1800-1815). Wikimedia Commons.

20. Denounced by Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, in 1798 President Adams and the Federalist Party instituted aggressive anti-immigrant legislation under the Alien and Sedition Acts

Passed by the fifth United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Naturalization Act, Alien Friends Act, and Alien Enemy Act were a series of bills designed to politically marginalize immigrants as well as discourage and reduce the levels of migration to the newly constituted nation. Proposed as a means of supposedly strengthening national security during the Quasi-War with France, the acts permitted the government to imprison or deport aliens considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” as well as any male citizen of a hostile nation over the age of fourteen during times of war.

Provoking outcry by Democratic-Republicans, supported at the polls by a majority of immigrants Jefferson rode a wave of resentment against the xenophobic legislation to the White House. Whilst the Alien Friends Act was allowed to expire in 1801 and the Naturalization Act replaced by a successor in 1802, the Alien Enemy Act remains on the statute books to this day. Appearing as Chapter 3; Sections 21–24 of Title 50 of the United States Code, the archaic bill was employed during World War Two to imprison and deport individuals of German, Japanese, and Italian origin.